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Paradise lost?



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By Dr Upul Wijayawardhana


‘Paradise Lost’, the epic work of the English poet John Milton written in blank verse, was first published in 1667 in 10 books but the second edition, published seven years later, was arranged into 12 books. Milton may have been stirred by the turbulent era he lived in, to write this epic. No doubt, the English Civil war that lasted from 1642 to 1651, culminating in the ‘victory of the parliament’ and the execution of King Charles I for treason in 1649, would have affected him.


Though others still hail our land as’ Paradise’, what have we done, or left undone, to our paradise? What ‘forbidden fruit’ did we eat?


These thoughts came to my mind after reading a brochure sent by a well-known British Travel firm. ‘DialAFlight’. In its September newsletter it has a piece on Sri Lanka titled "So that’s what they mean by Paradise" which I read with a great sense of pride, more so, because the subheading states: "It’s a much over-used description- but Jessica Davies has evidence to prove that stunning Sri Lanka really is paradise". True, they have a commercial interest, too, but, still, such a description should make us proud. But, what have we done to our paradise?


The way things are going, it looks as if Paradise is lost. Is it lost forever or are we going through a blip? Is there a curse? Who is responsible?


I am old enough to remember our day of Independence but was too young, on that day, to realise the significance of it, though remember very well sharing the pride with millions of others, on 4th February, 1948. My earliest memory, of any political event, is witnessing the raising of our flag, following the lowering of the Union Jack, by the ‘Father of the Nation’, D S Senanayaka. I was seated next to my father, on a tiered viewing gallery, built opposite the Paththiirippuwa of the ‘Temple of the Tooth’, and joined in the thunderous applause that followed. I am sure my father dreamt, like many of his generation, a bright, prosperous and independent future for us. The initial hopes of glory have been substituted by a sense of helplessness, never more so than at the present moment. Who is responsible?


Politicians


Being our ‘guiding stars’, no doubt, politicians have to take a fair share of the responsibility. Unity of purpose for independence was soon replaced by the hunger for power and they exploited, without shame, all human weaknesses to gain position and power. One would have expected the socialists to be the least exploitative but they were the first. The Communist Party used caste as a weapon to ensure winning seats in the South. Others followed and caste-based seats became the norm. It is not the right person but the person from the right caste that represented the voters! Cabinet portfolios were ‘distributed’ on the basis of caste, creed, religion, etc., not on the basis of suitability. Meritocracy was forsaken and the foundation for a downhill path was laid, soon after independence!


As time went by, things got worse. SWRD’s ‘Sinhala only’ slogan was just a means to gain power, not a genuine attempt to redress the disadvantages heaped on the majority during the colonial occupation. Chelvanayagam corrupted the word federalism with a communal tinge, just the mention of that form of government practised in some very successful countries, creating an uproar!


DS and Dudley had a vision; they knew our forte was agriculture and did their best to achieve self-sufficiency. Sir John never cared. Chaos of SWRD was replaced by the misguided austerity of Sirimavo. Scarcities encouraged corruption and a new political class with the motto ‘politics to get rich’ emerged. JR, though he salvaged the economy, did the most to enshrine corruption; resignation letters in his pocket ensuring the corrupt to submission but continuation. Premadasa did not allow others to be corrupt and was the biggest benefactor of the LTTE, who assassinated him in reward! DB was the lucky beneficiary and the myth of his honesty has long evaporated. CBK simply wasted 11 years of Sri Lankan history.


The unlikely emergence of MR and his efforts, ably supported by his brother and service chiefs, resulting in the defeat of the LTTE, which stunned pundits as well as ‘liberal’ Western Governments, was a turning point in the fortunes of the country. Optimism pervaded and we were fast progressing towards being a developed country but non-elected members of his family and the cronies round hm brought disaster, not only to him but also to the country. Desponded, voters chose an unprepared Sirisena. However, listening to his inauguration speech, even supporters of MR may have seen a light at the end of the tunnel, but it did not take long for darkness to descend.


Arms of the law


Police and judiciary rather than being independent arms of the law have become the arms of the politicians. We have a police chief who openly received instructions from a minister and a navy commander who ‘roughed-up’ a journalist, who was trying to do his duty, in public.


Lawyers who openly contempt court are not brought to justice but when a ‘man in robes’ commits the same offence, he is given the maximum possible sentence. A lady lawyer, who became famous by her bold speech exposing the misgivings of the ‘bar’, was let off with advice, not even a warning, when caught speeding on an expressway. The Sinhala saying "Naduwath hamuduruwange, Baduwath hamuduruwange, Hamuduruwoma theeranaya denna" comes to mind!


Medical men


I will be failing in my duty if I do not refer to my ‘brethren’ and may be accused of partisanship. When I worked in Sri Lanka we were a respected lot, in spite of the occasional GMOA strikes, but the situation is reversed today. Most I meet refer to the medical fraternity in derogatory terms, which is a great pity as the vast majority are honest, decent doctors doing their best for the patients.


The GMOA has become a political body and they strike for anything, even on matters beyond employment rights. Who can forget the televised scene where my friend, much respected Carlo Fonseka having to worship the committee of GMOA pleading not to strike on his behalf, following being not re-appointed President of the Sri Lanka Medical Council. His successor, Colvin Gunaratna left the post as he could not bring about any reform as the council was ‘invaded’ by the GMOA. Thus, the inertia of good doctors has contributed to our fall from grace.


Yahapalanaya


What was once thought to be a new dawn has turned out to be a mirrage. We have a President who forgets what he said on Monday by Tuesday. We have a Prime Minister who imported a FRCS to rob the Central Bank, who is now absconding. While Yahapalana justice is meted out to political opponents, speeded up by the setting up of special courts, friendly crooks are protected and shielded. We have cabinet spokesmen giving two different versions of the same event. We had a Foreign Minister who co-sponsored a resolution against his own country, a unique event in history, may be with the motive that his nemesis would be dealt with by an ‘International Court’. We have a Finance Minister who openly declares that the first-rung drug dealers are leaders of Buddhist associations but does not name them or get authorities to bring them to justice. I can go on and on.


Buddhist leaders


Sri Lanka has been shaped by Buddhist traditions and even the practices of non-Buddhists in Sri Lanka have been influenced by Buddhism. On one hand, we can be proud that religious tolerance and admiration is so great that a Christian Brother sings the praises of the Buddha. On the other hand, we have reasons to be concerned that Buddhism is being attacked both from outside and within. What is sad is the lack of Buddhist leadership. It looks as if the Mahanayakas are there only for the positions and perks.


Is there a solution?


Those who are responsible for this state of affairs should find a solution before it is too late. MR should take a fair share of the blame. He got blinded by the power of the presidency but that was not the forbidden fruit, though it contributed. It was his vision that went against him. He envisaged, correctly, that China is the next superpower and aligned with the future, which irked our neighbour, a relation but not a friend. Most of all he irked the mighty USA which decided on regime change which it did, using our own politicians as its paws. No doubt our neighbour helped. Once that was achieved the USA let us down, hook, line and sinker. No investment, no aid and the Rupee in free-fall!


Trump’s slogan is ‘America first’. Copying that, let our politicians put Sri Lanka first. They should forget the lure of Dollars, Pounds, Yens or even Rupees and work honestly for the next five years. They should be our ‘guiding stars’. That is the only way to prevent the impending disaster.


Mobilising the vast talent available in the country, utilizing the many natural resources available, the country can be rebuilt if only we have politicians with the will to withstand foreign machinations through surreptitious or not-so-surreptitious NGOs and the like.


Milton published ‘Paradise Regained’ just four years after the publication of ‘Paradise Lost’ and three years before his death. Jesus was the Messiah. Do we have one?


 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
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